20 years ago today the destructive 1998 derecho hit

Posted at 5:54 PM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 17:54:08-04

WALKER, Mich. -- Thursday marks 20 years since the destructive straight-line winds May 31, 1998 derecho hit across West Michigan.

Based off the damage, National Weather Service meteorologists say this derecho was moving at 70 mph hitting Grand Haven around 5 a.m. reaching Lansing an hour later, and destroyed homes and trees with 60 to 130 mph winds.

"In Michigan, on average we’ll see a derecho about every two years or so; however, most of them are not as strong as this one," said Cort Scholten, NWS Meteorologist. "This one is about as strong as it gets."

Home video and pictures taken in Walker after the derecho show neighbors discovering the damage, and some apartments torn apart, similar to a set of condos in Spring Lake.

"We were getting ready to go to church and all of a sudden we heard this horrible howling wind," said Rick Johnson, remembering waking up that morning in Walker.

"And I had a trailer on the side of my house that had two wave runners on it, and I looked out the back window and I’d seen that trailer rolling right across my yard."

Johnson and others said their power was out for eight days, and remembers the storm happening fast.

"All this devastation just instantly happened, and then it’s all gone away and the sun’s shining," he remembered.

The derecho killed four people, hurting nearly 150 more, according to NWS data, and arrived after a tornado watch then severe thunderstorm warning.

"A lot of people they probably knew a storm was coming before they went to bed," said Scholten, "however after people went to bed, that’s probably when we realized how bad it really was going to be."

Scholten says usually up to a few derechos happen nationwide each year, but it’s rare to have one like the 1998 derecho with winds greater than 110 miles per hour. The last ones in Michigan were in 2014 in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo areas, then in 2011 from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo.